WOC 2017: Challenging and demanding terrain in prospect

Posted on | June 28, 2017 | Category: News

Athletes taking part in the upcoming World Championships will experience a rich mixture of terrain types. The sprint races take place in the city of Tartu and the town of Viljandi, and the forest venues are based on the smaller settlements Rõuge and Vitipalu.

The Sprint Races

Tartu, the Event Centre for WOC, is the second largest city in Estonia and claims to be the oldest city in the Baltics; it is famous for its university founded in the 17th Century. The Sprint Qualification and Final races will be held here, with the arena being the “café-filled Town Hall Square, home of the Kissing Students fountain”, to quote one tourist guide; the fountain is a dramatic piece of sculpture erected in 1948. This spot is well-known to some of the older competitors taking part in WOC, as it was also the finishing point for the European Championships Sprint race in 2006. Best-placed of those competing again this year was Marianne Andersen, Norway who was silver medalist, but she is down to run Middle and Relay this time. The courses will get into old town, modern town and hilly parkland, and some flights of steps will most certainly be encountered.

Old map Tartu

Viljandi, a town of some 18,000 inhabitants, sometimes called the culture capital of Estonia because of its rich involvement in theatre and traditional music, hosts the Sprint Relay. A feature of the town is the extensive Castle Park with its complex ruins (see picture in Wikipedia) and area of forest, all with steep slopes and long valleys. In fact 27% of the town area is designated ‘green zone’. The picturesque old town with its complex network of streets and alleys will also feature in the courses.

Old map Viljandi

The maps for the sprints are all at 1:4,000 scale with 2.5 m contours, drawn by Mait Tõnisson who is also the Course Planner for the Tartu races.

Two forest venues

The Long Distance race is not far from the terrain at Haanja, used for the Middle Distance in EOC 2006, and will use an arena at Rõuge. Daniel Hubmann, Switzerland will be relishing a run here as he won the silver medal at EOC 2006, beaten on that occasion only by Jani Lakanen, Finland. The area lies between the highest hill and the deepest lake in Estonia. The areas are characterised by mixed coniferous and deciduous forest where the deciduous in particular is slow with poor visibility. Looking at old maps, one is struck by the number of marshes, small and large, which will certainly influence route choice, and the amount of quite dense forest. Part of the competition area is hilly with minor terrain features, another part has large valleys and smaller tributary ones, and there are few paths and tracks.

Keeping focus and determination in often difficult conditions will be necessary for success in the Long Distance – but that has to be combined with high technical skills. Canadian Emily Kemp says: “I have really enjoyed some of the training forests, but others are a little bit tougher to get through – you have to stay positive. Here, I need to practice using my compass far more. I’m used to Finnish terrain with many features, but here you can’t see much, and because of the nature of the forest it’s easy to deviate from the chosen line.”

Maja Alm thinks the forest terrain is a bit like what she is used to at home in Denmark. “But here there are more trees and undergrowth – it is greener.” The Swedish women’s team at their training camp confirmed the tough nature of some of the terrain and added: “It’s difficult to keep direction.” Undergrowth and fallen trees and branches are clearly a hindrance to free running in parts of these Estonian forests.

The map for the Long Distance is 1:15,000, 5 m contours, drawn by Madis Oras who is also Course Planner for the Relay. Long Distance courses are planned to be 16.8 km with 345 m climb for men and 11.1 km with 255 m for women. The areas have the potential for setting some extremely challenging long legs where route choice will be critical and where the quality of route execution could be decisive.

A somewhat different experience will greet the runners in the Middle Distance and Relay events near Vitipalu, an area used for training for EOC 2006: it has very detailed contours with many depressions and ridges. The areas to be used are mapped at 1:10,000 with 2.5 m contours by Kalle Remm. Runnability and visibility vary here from good to poor. There are no open areas and few marshes. The Tartu Ski Marathon track passes through the area, and there are some smaller paths and tracks. But slow running conditions coupled with low visibility will again feature on parts of the courses.

Here there will need to be strong emphasis on reading the contour detail and maintaining map contact throughout in the very detailed terrain. Some route choices are likely to be quite complex.

Old maps – and a glimpse of the new!

Old maps of the competition areas – from EOC 2006 and other races – can be found on the WOC website and other places on the internet.


A quick glimpse of the Long Distance map for this year’s race showing a tiny portion of a course at the planning stage can also be found on the WOC website, courtesy of an oversight when editing an Estonian TV preview of the World Championships, broadcast in late April. Here, in an interview with Long Distance Course Planner Tõnis Erm, an indoor shot showing him studying the map was included in the final output by mistake. The only thing to be done was, of course, to share it with the world at large – so the whole preview can be viewed on the website.

Sven Oras is Head of Maps and Courses. He and his team have worked very hard over the past 2-3 years to get everything ready and up to standard. The maps will be the last WOC maps to use the ‘old’ map norms, ISOM 2000. “By the time the new standard was issued, the maps were almost ready,” he says. Now it is almost the start of WOC, with a full set of maps and courses finally prepared. One can be sure that every map and course will provide a very demanding technical and physical challenge.

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